Mar. 28 - Apr. 4, 2004
My wife and I are mid-fifties. This was our fifth cruise in the past two years, our second on Royal Caribbean.
Overall, we would have to say this was our best cruise yet. We enjoy cruising for the opportunities it provides to see new places, meet interesting people, and escape from our daily obligations and responsibilities.
We flew into LAX 2 days before the cruise and picked up our full size car from Enterprise. Their operation is very smoothly run and they did allow us to drop off the car at either the Sheraton or the Marina hotel on Sunday. Over the phone, they told us the additional $25 drop-of charge would be waved for cruise passengers, but, apparently, judging by our bill, that was not the case. They do have an office along the pier which may be open on Saturday. It is closed on Sunday.
We drove from LAX to San Diego where we stayed at the San Bernardo Golf Resort arranged through Priceline for $70/night. They did tack on a $12 "resort" fee, but it was still a great deal for a 4 star hotel. We managed to beat most of the rush-hour traffic leaving LA, and were able to use the car pool lane when the traffic slowed, but 405/5 between LA and San Diego is noted for long and ugly traffic delays at all times of the day and all days of the week.
On Saturday, we visited the Wild Animal Park northeast of San Diego. It was busy, but we managed to get on one of the first trams early in the day and spent about 4 hours after that wondering around. It is much different from other zoos we've seen with animals allowed to roam and intermingle in more natural settings. Many of the animals we saw were endangered or nearly extinct.
We drove back up to San Pedro and checked into the Marina hotel which we had also found through Pricelne with a $37 bid (a couple we met on the ship paid $170). The Marina is at the end of the San Pedro piers and is surrounded by sailboats. It is very near the San Pedro Aquarium and about 2 miles from the Vision pier. The Marina has free shuttle service to and from the pier and free parking for cruise passengers who stay at the hotel. There are no restaurants nearby other than the hotel restaurant. There is a trolley which runs up and down the pier, but not on Sunday or late at night.
Between the Marina and the Vision pier were several restaurants and a museum in the Port O' Call area. We went to the fancier place for dinner, Port O' Call Restaurant, then walked around through several fresh fish markets where we could have picked any fresh fish or live shellfish we wanted to be cooked as desired and served on large platters with bread and vegetables. There are some shops and roving musicians in the area, but everything was pretty well closed down by the time we finished dinner - except for the Kareoke at one of the fish market restaurants. That place looked like it was going to be hopping all night.
We noticed that cabs were at a premium anywhere along the pier at San Pedro, though the market/restaurant area was within walking distance of the Sheraton and a few other hotels where cabs could likely be found.
On Sunday morning, I drove back to LAX to pick up some fellow cruisers from Minnesota. It took about 15 minutes to drive each way - no serious traffic problems on Sunday mornings. Dropping them off at the pier was easy - nothing like the extensive identity and security checks and traffic tie-ups we've seen at other ports. I returned to the Marina Hotel to drop off the keys to the rental car at the front desk, pick up my wife and luggage, and board their free shuttle to the pier. When we arrived at 11:15, there were no lines at check-in, and, after a short wait for the ID picture, we were on board by 11:30. Without question, this was the easiest and least stressful boarding we have experienced.
The Atrium/Centrum is the most stunning we have seen - 7 stories of brass and glass with a flowing fountain at the bottom.
The dining room was the brightest and most cheerfully decorated we have seen.
The theater was not especially beautiful, but the seats were far more comfortable than we have found on other ships, and there were virtually no obstructed views.
We never found a line of more than a few people or waited for a seat in the buffet where we ate breakfast and lunch most days. We often found seats by the windows where we watched for whales while we ate.
This is the first time we've seen an indoor pool, which we thought was a nice alternative, but, even though we had very smooth seas, the pitch of the boat often turned it into a wave pool.
Maybe we're just getting used to finding our way on ships, but this seemed an easy one to navigate. Perhaps only the 2 sets of elevators/stairs helped. Though we usually used the stairs, elevators always seemed readily available.
Our captain, Gerry Larssen-Fedde, was commanding his first voyage the week we sailed. We visited with him on a few occasions and found him very personable and interesting. At 39, he may be the youngest captain with RCCL. We were very impressed by how efficiently he ran the ship, especially during tendering and docking. We arrived at each port early, were promptly brought/set ashore, and set sail on time.
We were disappointed to learn that Parker had left the ship just before we boarded. He was our first cruise director on the Majesty a few years back and remains our favorite by far, but we thought "Dan, Dan, the party man" did a commendable job, and we were especially impressed by Marianne who hosted the Cruise Critic party and participated in and ran several of the activities on the ship.
All of the servers we dealt with in the dining room and in the buffet were efficient, courteous, and personable. The same was true for the cabin attendants. Several crew members enthusiastically responded to us when we approached them and asked them to share some of their personal experiences with us.
No question, the highlight was the show by The Drifters. It was the only performance that really filled the theater.
No question, RCCL takes the scavenger hunt game to a new level.
We thought the piano bar player, Anselmo Boles, was very talented, but found the smoke level much higher than we could tolerate for very long.
The house band, which seemed to move effortlessly between rock, country, and 50's, included some very talented musicians.
We are not picky eaters, and we do not expect a ship at sea serving over 1,000 people at a seating to provide the finest in elegant cuisine. We found the dining on Vision met or exceeded our expectations. The buffets offered more appetizing choices than we could sample, and the dinners were attractive and tasty. Even the ranch steak which has been panned frequently on these boards was commended by those at our table who sampled it.
We really liked the French fries served at the Solarium CafĂ©, and their Mexican pizza was a bit spicy, but a nice change of pace.
Cabo San Lucas
Even though we were ticketed to take the 4th tender, we found ourselves on the first because the tenders loaded early, and not everyone was prepared to board. Another couple from our table joined us, and we hired a cab to take us to the glass factory across town (about 2 miles). The cab was $3/person each way plus $6 for waiting about an hour. We were the first tourists at the factory. It had a showroom with thousands of hand-blown vases, glasses, and decorative works. Connected to the showroom was the work area where the workers gladly demonstrate their techniques for anyone interested. We were fascinated by the skill and precision demonstrated by the glass blowers, and they encouraged us to take a turn blowing glass bubbles. Tip jars were placed throughout the work area. Note: as we have often experienced on our travels outside the U.S., OSHA does not exist at the glass factory. Although we didn't purchase anything, we found the prices were reasonable.
We wandered through the main part of town, then through the shops at the pier before returning to the ship a little after noon. Prices in Cabo are generally a little higher than we've seen in other places in Mexico, probably due to its remote location at the end of Baja.
We hired an open-air taxi to take us to the golden zone for $14 (you can ask to be let out of the large wooden doors and on to the main street to find cheaper taxis) where we wandered around the shops and markets for a while before we headed over to the beach. We had an authentic and very pleasant lunch at Panchos while watching the vendors and parasailers, then walked down the beach, doing our best to fend off the many offers to buy hats, scarves, kites, and etc. The vendors were not obnoxious; they were just everywhere. We found another open-air cab for our return to the ship for $12. We found the selection and prices at the markets at the piers at both Cabo and Mazatlan were about equivalent to what we saw in the towns.
I had an 11:00 reservation for the cable tour through the trees. We walked out of the gates at the pier and found a cab ($5) to take us across town to the canopy tours office. Since we were a half hour early, we walked around the art gallery section (Romantic Zone) and down to the beach before returning for the ride into the hills. We arranged the tour on the internet (canopytours-vallarta.com) and received a 10% discount. Diane paid $12 for the ride up and I paid $63 for the full 13 cable rides. Although I am not terribly comfortable with heights and have not been on a roller coaster in many, many years, I thought I should give this a try. It was well worth the anxiety and the cost. Most of the cables either began or ended on the ground, though some had take-offs or landings from/to platforms built up in the trees. Four of the cables crossed a river valley, the longest being 1/4 of a mile at about 150 feet up in the air. Riders were strapped into a harness which allowed them to sit suspended by a nylon strap attached to a pulley which slid along the cable. Handles at the sides of the pulleys were used to "steer" the pulley Holding the pulley wheel straight meant picking up speed and turning the pulley to the side slowed it down. Although everything seemed reasonably safe, it was evident OSHA has not been here, either, but we were very well cared for by our guides who clipped us onto the pulleys, sent us on our way, and caught us at each landing. The truck ride up to the tour area and back was probably the most dangerous part of the experience. The 13 cables took our group of about 15 (the youngest was 6 1/2; I was probably the oldest) about 2 hours to complete. There is a similar tour available through the ship excursions which, I believe, does only tree-to-tree slides.
The Malecon area is not far from the tour office - about 8 blocks downhill. We crossed some rickety swinging walkways over a pair of streams along the way and found a mall of merchants with fairly good prices on souvenir stuff (their sales pitch - "Good stuff for your next garage sale"). We had lunch at Pipis where they made guacamole at the table and served huge margaritas and very large portioned meals. After looking through some of the more expensive stores on along the Malecon Boardwalk, we found a cab back to the ship ($5).
Of the 3 stops, Puerto Vallarta was, by far, our favorite. We didn't find anyplace there where we felt uncomfortable walking and we didn't have a lot of people in our faces trying to sell us stuff.
There is a Walmart and Sam's Club about 1/4 mile from the pier. It's easy to see from the ship.
There was no debarkation talk; information was provided on the television.
We were in the first group off because we needed to be to the airport early, but this seemed to go about as well as embarkation. Some folks didn't realize they were going to need their sail-and-sign cards to get off and slowed things down, but we were off the ship by 8:15. We used Super Shuttle for the ride back to the airport. They charge $15/person and are parked right next to the cab stand. Some folks showed up without reservations and they just called for more shuttles. I reserved a van for 6 for $60 and could have also reserved a larger van for 9 for $90. As I understand it, cabs generally cost about $45, though their prices can vary depending on traffic.
We had no trouble getting in and out of LAX.
The two couples who shared our dining table were some of the most pleasant people we have met. We felt very comfortable with them and often shared time together outside of the dining room.
Perfect weather, and we have never had calmer seas throughout a cruise.
Whales and dolphins made regular appearances all along the route.
The rocks at the point just out of Cabo were stunning, and the ship was parked there all day.
For those who like to shop and have limited mobility, each of these ports had fairly large markets with reasonable prices right at the docks.
For cooler temps (50's and 60's) along the way between LA and Mexico at the end of March.
For friendly shower curtains. Bring a handful of clip-on clothespins, or simply allow the bottom of the curtain to set outside the shower. There is a drain there to catch the water.
For a lavish feast on deck after leaving Puerto Vallarta.
Email if you have any questions.